It's been nearly 10 years since Ankur Jain, then an undergraduate at Wharton, founded the Kairos Society, an international organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship. And while the group can count many high-profile startups among its membership--mattress company Casper being one--Kairos has never truly had skin in the game, until now.
On Thursday, Jain and his partner and chief executive, Alex Fiance, announced the creation of a new fund to support these fledgling entrepreneurs--planning to invest $250,000 apiece in dozens of promising companies. While the organization's ethos will, going forward, have real money behind it, Kairos also hopes to attract even more enthusiasm to its cause--particularly as the demise of the Clinton Global Initiative has left a gap in the philanthropic community.
To aid in this effort, Kairos also announced Thursday that its annual summit will be even more star studded than past events. Set to take place at various locations in New York City in April, the event will bring together more than 100 CEOs, thought leaders and entertainers, including former Apple CEO John Sculley, recording artist Will.I.Am., and Warby Parker co-founders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal.
A reinvented space
To be sure, Kairos Society is only the latest entrant in a space that, until recently, had a been dominated by the Clinton Global Initiative. Launched by former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 2005, CGI has been widely credited with developing major solutions in areas including health care, clean water, education, and disaster relief. But last year, in the midst of the U.S. election--and likely in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton presidential victory--the organization shut down.
"This has been, I believe, a profound advance in the conduct and impact of modern philanthropy," Bill Clinton remarked at the time.
In the absence of CGI, startups including Kairos Society and Solve, a nonprofit developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as existing groups like the Aspen Institute and South by Southwest (SXSW,) are stepping up to the plate. To varying degrees, these organizations are picking up where CGI left off: They work with young, promising entrepreneurs, but they also bring together private and public sector leaders, and commit to philanthropy in some form.
Seizing the market opportunity
Matthew Swift is the co-founder and CEO of Concordia Summit, a nonprofit that connects businesses and heads of state at conferences, and he says he's seen an uptick in membership since the demise of CGI. Concordia, which launched in 2011, sees about 2,500 participants at its main event in New York City each year.
"The global development community is looking for a home, and we're receptive to that," Swift says. He explains that after CGI, Concordia restructured its membership program. It now charges $15,000 per member, compared with the CGI's standard donation rate of $20,000. "In launching the program, we're actively trying to be a center for whoever continues to want a presence," says Swift.
Perhaps unlike the Clinton Foundation, which has received criticism for its close ties to the Democratic Party--and allegations that it traded funds for political favors--Concordia aims to be "fiercely nonpartisan." Former attendees have included billionaire Warren Buffett, the Bush family, as well as former U.S. vice president Joe Biden.
The ties that bind
Concordia is, in many ways, still in its infancy, and other firms are more directly focused on marrying the public and private sectors. The Aspen Ideas Festival, for one, has been around since 2005--the same year that CGI launched. It draws a comparable 3,000 annual attendees to its event in Aspen, Colorado, and has landed speakers such as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Ellevest's Sallie Krawcheck, and former U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch. Of course, there's also South by Southwest, the famed film and music festival that takes place in Austin this month, which has a related Social Impact arm. When it comes to hooking celebrities--this year, entrepreneurs may be able to meet and greet with the entertainer Kesha, for example--the conference may have an edge over others.
Where industry talent is concerned, Solve may well have the competitive advantage. After CGI disbanded, as many as six former staffers made their way to the Boston think tank, including Solve's executive director, Alex Amouyel. The two-year-old nonprofit has drawn the likes of Alphabet's Eric Schmidt to its annual meetings, encouraging entrepreneurs around the world to submit proposals to tackle issues such as refugee education and public health. After presenting their proposal at the United Nations, winners receive a non-monetary Solver award that comes with coaching and mentorship, as well as introductions to major investors, influencers and academics.
Lacking the full package
Still, no one organization seems to have the centered, holistic approach of its predecessor. And certainly, they all have very large shoes to fill. Although the impact of CGI is hard to measure impartially, the organization said that over 12 years, members made more than 3,600 "commitments to action" in more than 180 countries. It also claims to have invested many billions of dollars in small businesses, housing development, health care, and energy efficiency. Importantly, there were notable failures. Though Sir Richard Branson, the lauded Virgin Group founder, pledged to invest $3 billion of profits on clean energy projects between 2006 and 2016, he ultimately put up less than 10 percent of that, according to a recent Palantir analysis.
What's more, the Clinton Foundation will continue to bring together leaders at its spin-off, the CGI University program. Founded in 2007, CGI University has brought together more than 8,700 students from 145 countries. It's credited with launching companies including Uncharted Play, the New York City-based renewable-energy startup founded by Jessica O. Matthews in 2011.
The next big thing
Even still, at the age of 27, Jain thinks his firm could be the next big thing. The difference, he argues, is that it focuses on Millennials. "The companies you read about in Silicon Valley aren't actually trying to solve a real problem," Jain insists. "With Kairos, the key is getting the leaders of today working with the founders of tomorrow."
To his point, the first companies that Kairos has invested in are virtually unknown. There's Abaris, a financial services company that sells alternatives to 401(k)s--such as a deferred income annuity--on an online marketplace. Kairos has also invested in Radish Fiction, a mobile app for short stories, and a transportation startup called Me Salva.
But everyone has to start somewhere. And the Kairos network, which reaches more than 300 industry leaders, 600 investors, and 2,000 alumni, isn't a bad place to do it. Says CEO Fiance, "There's more mass appeal to what we're doing. We're looking for the outliers."